This is a flash fiction piece from my sketchbook as I explore what compels me toward my next novel project.
The soldier handled him roughly, spun him around like a cotton doll, held him by the shoulders and looked into his face.
“You don’t look like his brother,” the soldier said. He spoke with a lisp through disfigured teeth.
The man broke eye contact and hung his head. He would rather die than claim his brother, he thought, though he knew it not to be true. In spite of the preachings of the priests, he feared death. He thought of it as being alone in the dark, attacked by wolves, ripped and torn. Fear, pain, misery without bounds. At least in this world he always had the chance to escape, hide, evade death another day. Even, if there were no other way, fight.
The soldier lifted the man’s chin and slapped him. Twice. Hard. The man’s eyes watered and he saw crawling sparks of white light.
“Show me again,” ordered the soldier. A lesser soldier pushed the man’s back to them and they examined the birthmark the man had never been able to see on his right shoulder blade. He felt them rub it hard as if to wipe it away. All his life, others told him he wore the half-mark of Másaw, half an oval face, one slit for a closed eye, half a line for straight lips.
“He’s got it all right,” said the soldier. “This has got to be him.”
Once again, rough hands spun the man around and the soldier looked into his eyes, this time with something new in them. Fear? Respect? Restrained contempt?
“You’re the one, whether you act like it or not. It’s hard to believe you’re Pok’s brother, but you bear the mark.” The soldier looked him up and down and the man knew exactly what he saw: an emaciated farmer who looked far older than his years, a tattered loincloth, hair that had gone kinky gray years ago. Since Pok had risen through the ranks, well before he became Chief Warrior, or whatever he called himself now. Since Pok lost his right hand and his left thumb. Even though Pok became a four-fingered invalid, and even though the women and children had surged up in insurrection to throw him out of the Big House, he had somehow managed to regain his status among soldiers and men who wanted their power back. And now, Pok wanted his brother.
“Tell me your name,” said the solider, more gently than he had spoken so far.
“Kooka,” the man said, managing only a whisper.
The solider nodded, then turned to his underlings. “Take him to Pok, though I can’t imagine why he wants a weakling like this.”
The lesser soldiers pushed Kooka and he began the long walk to Black Stone Town where he would once again see his younger brother, Pok. He smiled. Even a weakling can take revenge, he thought.